Egypt's Christians are living in a profound state of fear after a string of attacks against churches, businesses and homes they say were carried out by angry supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
That fear was given new voice Monday when Egypt's Coptic Catholic community offered its support for the armed forces against what it defined as "terrorist" violence by Islamist supporters of Morsi.
In a message relayed by the Italian Episcopal news agency SIR, Catholic Coptic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak emphasized there were no real divisions between Christians and Muslims in Egypt.
He also thanked the military and the police in Egypt "for all their efforts in protecting the country."
"We thank all those of our fellow Muslim citizens who have shown themselves to be so close to us and have tried to defend our churches and institutions," he said.
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Since August 14, almost 900 have died in battles between police and activists supporting ousted Morsi. Another 4000 have been injured, according to another estimate by a writer on Catholic Online
Andrew Doran who served on the executive secretariat of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO at the U.S. Department of State, compared the Muslim Brotherhood to the Nazis. He likened their attacks last week to one of the darkest chapters in European history.
"The Muslim Brotherhood's systematic and coordinated attacks against Christians in Egypt are reminiscent of Kristallnacht in Germany in 1938, when Nazi paramilitaries systematically vandalized Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues and murdered scores of Jews in a disturbing foreshadowing of the fate of European Jews over the next few years," he wrote in an article for National Review Online.
As police dispersed Morsi supporters from two Cairo squares last week, attackers torched churches across the country in an apparent response.
"People are terrified; no one dares leave home," Marco, a 27-year-old engineer, told Agence France-Presse by phone from the central city of Sohag.
The city has become a ghost town, he said, describing an atmosphere of terror where attackers "know where the Copts live" and torched several churches before turning to homes.
The Maspero Youth Union, a Coptic Christian youth movement, denounced what it called a "retaliation war" against the religious minority, which makes up around 10 percent of Egypt's population.
The group accused Morsi supporters of targeting them in response to Coptic Pope Tawadros II's support for the July 3 coup that ousted the Islamist leader.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a local NGO, says at least 47 churches were torched since last week, and that attackers also targeted Christian schools, shops, and homes across all 27 provinces.
In one case, a mob looted a Franciscan school in suburban Cairo and replaced a cross with a black banner resembling an al-Qaida flag, while nuns were marched through the streets "like prisoners of war," the Daily Mail reported Monday.
The anger at Christians also shows signs of spreading outside of Egypt. Iraq's Chaldean Christian archbishop Louis Sako told AFP that one of his community's churches was among those targeted.
"This is a real disaster," he said, saying the region is a "dangerous volcano."
For Marco, the attacks against the churches were not a surprise — Christian religious buildings have been targeted before.
It was the torching of Coptic Christian homes and the looting of their businesses that shocked him.
The attackers were "people chanting pro-Morsi slogans and wearing headbands with the phrase 'Muslim Brotherhood' written on them," he said.
The Maspero Youth Union, which documented abuses against Christians during Morsi's one year in office, also laid blame for the attacks on supporters of the ousted leader.
"Maspero Youth Union condemns the terrorism Copts are facing now in Egypt after supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi waged a retaliation war against Copts and their churches, homes and businesses," the group said.
"Copts were attacked in nine governorates, causing panic, losses and destruction for no reason and no crimes they committed except being Christians."
Morsi's supporters have often accused Christians of supporting president Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in Egypt's 2011 uprising. Ironically, Christians were also targeted when Mubarak was in power.
On Thursday, the country's interim army-installed government described attacks on Egypt's Christians as a "red line" and pledged that authorities would "respond forcefully" to any new attack.
Shortly afterward, the defense minister, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who led the coup, pledged that the army would pay for the rebuilding of the churches attacked on Wednesday.
On Thursday, interim Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi also announced he had met with Coptic Pope Tawadros II to express solidarity in the wake of the attacks.
And state news agency MENA reported that 80 Morsi loyalists had been arrested and turned over to military courts for their alleged involvement in torching churches in Suez province on Wednesday.
The Muslim Brotherhood had little to say on the issue, with spokesman Gehad el-Haddad suggesting the authorities were behind the violence.
"Military coup regime is resorting to instigating sectarian violence exactly as they did when Mubarak was about to fall," he tweeted.
The government's promises have so far failed to convince Christians and activists that authorities would prevent future attacks.
"The state must intervene to protect the population. Concrete action is needed after all the big speeches," said Ishak Ibrahim, an Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights researcher on religious issues.
He described a "discourse of hatred" against Christians throughout the country, more from the Salafists, the most conservative of Islamists, rather than members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
And he pointed out that most of the attacks had taken place outside the major cities, in areas where security presence is often minimal.
"Families who are too scared to go out to get supplies are waiting for something concrete," added Karem, another resident of Sohag.
"Right now as we speak, attacks against Christians are continuing," he said.
"No one is protecting us."
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© AFP 2013